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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Day 13 - Marrakech

We arrived in Marrakech around sunset after our day-long journey—and I got a shot of it.

Marrakech is a town of 1.5 million and it is divided into two parts: the medina (old town where 500,000 people) and Gueliz (new town where 1 million live). The medina was built in 1065 while the new town was built by the French in 1913.

The medina is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has 19 km of walls and 22 gates. The Koutoubia minaret of the mosque in the central square of the medina has served as a landmark for both the caravans and for today's tourists. It is 72 meters high, so there is no way we can get lost in Marrakech, says Yemani.

“Look for the minaret and then take a taxi back to the hotel,” said Yemani. “It's impossible to get lost in Marrakech”

Agriculture abounds in Marrakech. Olives and olive oils are the first and foremost product and groves are part of the city—some of which have been here since the 12th century. Other products include apricots, avocados, peaches, some cereals and vegetables. Artificial irrigation is practiced as well as natural irrigation, whose water comes from the snow melt of the Atlas Mountains. There are three dam lakes in this area to support the agriculture and living spaces.

Golf courses are a conspicuous presence, too. Marrakech has four of them. They were controversial at one point . People didn't like the fact that water was being used on golf courses when it was such a scarce resource. Enter the Germans who designed a gray water system—and made everyone happy. Golf courses are becoming a regular landscape item included in the design of major cities. As tourism grows, I guess golf courses are a key part of that industry.

one of the many new luxury homes here
Marrakech is a draw for many Europeans and Moroccans alike. Over 10,000 retired Frenchmen and many rich Moroccans live here and they have built villas and riads for their houses. The area is booming everywhere with luxury houses and hotels. The streets are lined with manicured orange trees. Satellites abound off the sides of the two-story houses. Housing was a particularly edgy issue for Moroccans. It was difficult to build one until 20 years ago when King Mohammed VI opened the gates of opportunity for the people to buy property and build. They have especially responded in Marrakech.

Everybody wants to be in Marrakech, said Yemani. Weekends are particularly popular for out-of-towners, but not during the summers when the heat is intense. Consequently, many different languages are spoken here. Our hotel has several language available on TV alone.

Winston Churchill loved Marrakech and his favorite place to stay was the Mamonia Hotel, an exclusive hotel for the very rich. People used to refer to it as "Churchill's Hotel." Russian Prime Minister Putin had his daughter married there.

Mustafa and Shafik
Everyone in our group has been very excited to get to “The Red” or “The Pink,” as Marrakech is called, even though this is our last city, our last bus ride and our last days together as a group. We started our first good-byes to our two bus drivers, Mustafa and Sharik, after they dropped us off at the hotel—The Atlas Asmi. They have been superior in every way. We felt safe throughout our journeys--especially through the mountains--and the bus was clean both inside and out every day. They handled our luggage carefully and we always knew it was secure. One of the key elements that has made this trip so successful are our two drivers.

We were supposed to stay at another hotel, but because there are international soccer matches taking place here this week, OAT arranged for a change to the Atlas Asmi Hotel, which was probably to our advantage.  OAT was afraid we'd be exposed to the soccer "hooligans" who raise a ruckus whenever they are in town--or when their team loses. 

Here's one of the receiving areas in the hotel lobby.
Here is my room.

We are very impressed with the hotel and had a delicious dinner buffet tonight. We think we got an upgrade and it was a welcome addition to our trip after such a long and tiring journey of two weeks on the road (three weeks for most of us). Actually, our hotels have all been very good, but this one meets the standards of what we are used to in the USA. I guess it was the transition we needed as we prepare to re-enter our own culture.

We met Yemani's family, who lives in Marrakech. He has a wife and two sons, Noor, 6 and Abdullah,14.  It was obvious that he had missed them and was glad to see them--and was very proud of them. We took pictures of them and made over them. Both sons speak French and Abdullah speaks English very well.

Yemani will be able to spend the next two weeks with his family as our tour will be his last of the year. Then he will work for four more months and have the summer off--at least from OAT. 
Here we are taking photos of Yemani's family.

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